EXPERIENCES IN MODERNIZATION
Need for & limitations in the application of information technology
to the irrigation sector in developing countries
Er S.G. Shirke, Director
A.R. Suryavanshi, Professor and Head, Science Faculty
A.V. Chandorkar, Professor
Water and Land Management Institute, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India
Water scarcity and competition is the main issue in developing countries as far as water resources development and management is concerned. The per capita availability of water is decreasing day by day due to population growth. The demand for water is rising for increased food production, further industrial development, better standards of living, etc. The per capita availability of water in India has shrunk by 53 percent in the last 40 years, i.e. since Independence. It is projected that it will have shrunk by 72 percent by 2025 (Engelman et al, 1993). Agriculture is the major consumer of water in the country. The overall efficiency of irrigation projects is generally not very satisfactory. This indicates that there is much scope to improve efficiency so that additional water is released for irrigation as well as other purposes.
Using information technology, including the adoption of modern control in the operation and maintenance of the irrigation system, is one of the ways to improve efficiency. The authors see the use of information technology as computerization of water resource and irrigation management.
The government of Maharashtra has introduced the use of information technology on some of the projects with the assistance from external agencies (World Bank, USAID, etc) and sundry experts. The details given below point to the teething trouble any developing country may face in the initial stages of computerization. It is however very significant that ultimately it is the use of modern information technology that will lead to the best performance of the system.
Performance evaluation of information technique projects
- The Maharashtra Minor Irrigation Project involving the
construction of 90 minor irrigation projects in the state was undertaken with
assistance from USAID. A computerized information system (the IMIS model) was
developed by expatriate consultants for the management of these projects.
Initially this model was tried on two or three projects for one to two years.
However, after a lot of efforts, this model was not used to the extent
desired. The consultants worked on the development of this and another model
for about three years. Basically there are two difficulties: a tremendous
amount of data is required, most of which was not easily forthcoming and
necessitated special efforts to collect, and there was a shortage of trained
- The Khadakwasla Project is a major irrigation project
in the western part of Maharashtra. A computerized monitoring and
decision-making system called canal irrigation management system has been
partially developed and installed for this project. The system is under trial.
The project at present has problems in its carrier system. Remote monitoring
cannot therefore lead to a complete solution at this time. The study is still
- Under the World Bank-aided MCIP III-R project, a pilot project of dynamic regulation on the Majalgaon major irrigation project has been undertaken with expert assistance from GERSAR, France. Under this project, the main canal will be operated using the controlled volume concept. (Initially, it will be operated by the constant volume control method.) To implement dynamic regulation, the cross regulators and head regulator have been motorized. A radio network has been established to communicate the data to the general control centre established at the divisional headquarters in Parali, which houses the overall control and supervisory computer equipment. One of the branch canals, the Ganga Masala branch, is provided with duckbill weirs and baffle distributors to be operated with the upstream control method. The work of this project is almost completed and has been under trial for the last two years. The preliminary performance evaluation of this project based on the experience during these two years and the experience of other information technology projects elsewhere in the state indicates that further reduction in cost is necessary. The project report expects that the project efficiency will increase by about six percent thanks to dynamic regulation. However, effective maintenance to reduce seepage and strict control on the use of water, as the canal will always remain full during the whole season, is necessary.
Reasons for the higher costs and inadequate performance of the trial projects
The results of the above case studies point to the fact that all the modern technology developed elsewhere or recommended by expatriate consultants cannot necessarily be put to use directly under the local conditions. The possible reasons for this are as follows:
- The experts may not be altogether fully aware of the
socio-economic aspect prevailing in the project area.
- It is also not unusual to find experts offering as
specific solutions a generic solution to all similar problems anywhere in the
world. This, which can be termed as the solution-in-search-of-a-problem
approach is not necessarily cost effective and may lead to failure (Biswas
- Possible inadequate socio-economic support for water
management capacity-building. According to a UNDP symposium (Delft, 1991),
capacity-building includes a) creating an enabling environment with
appropriate policy and legal frameworks, b) institutional development
including community participation, and c) human resources development and
strengthening of managerial systems.
- Possible withdrawal of management input soon after the pilot project is completed or withdrawal of expatriate support.
Steps recommended for the effective application of information technology
The appropriateness of technology plays a vital role in the ultimate success of any scheme. This encompasses a wide range of parameters such as suitability to local conditions, acceptability by beneficiaries, economic viability and so on. The following suggestions address these parameters to inculcate appropriateness while introducing commercial viable information technology in irrigation projects.
- Instead of adopting patchwork solutions, more emphasis
should be given to institutional reforms, i.e. changes in service definition,
changes in water allocation, delivery and operation policy, changes in legal
framework, a better monitoring and evaluation system, and the introduction of
the notion of performance accountability. Any problem which demands an
information technology -based solution should be referred to the organizations
or individuals located in the country to find out if they can provide a viable
solution. In case the in-country expertise is not available or able or if
there is a known technology available outside the country, then engaging an
expatriate consultant can be thought of. The selection of an expatriate
consultant should be based on contribution of the individual or organization
in the concerned area. Local authorities should not act as implementing
agencies only but be involved fully in developing the solution with the
external agency with the intention that complete transfer of technology occurs
in the process. Dissemination of the acquired know-how to as many
professionals as possible and replicating it in other projects should be
- The solution of a particular problem tried
successfully elsewhere in the country should be replicated first by making
appropriate modifications before the services of any consultant are sought.
- The capacity of the project-implementing personnel in
terms of technical knowledge, organizational and procedural constraints,
limitations of funds, and the sustainability of the technology or project over
a long period should be considered when developing and introducing modern
techniques. If a higher intellectual input is called for to acquire
proficiency in the technique or arduous duties are involved, the implementing
personnel may be suitably rewarded to maintain their motivation.
- As far as possible low-cost technology using
indigenous materials is to be preferred.
- Finally the acceptance of any modern techniques by the beneficiaries is vital, as without their co-operation success will remain elusive. Hence dialogue with the beneficiaries needs to be maintained during the implementation and suitable mid-course corrections effected to make the technology popular.
The application of information technology to irrigation projects is the need of the day. Procedure and workable solutions may differ from project to project and from country to country. Modern information technology is a useful tool to enhance efficiency provided that it is applied with appropriateness to suit reality on the ground.
Biswas A.K. 1996. Capacity-building for water management: some personal thoughts, in Water resources development, Vol12, No4, 399-405
Engelman R and Lekoy Pamela. 1993. Sustaining water, population and the future, in Population action international. Washington DC